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Heritage Manor residents hear update

Renovations under way, cause of fire yet undetermined

August 21, 2012
By GARRETT NEESE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Heritage Manor residents heard updates on Friday's fire and the progress on restoring the building at a Houghton Housing Commission meeting Monday.

In the short term, the building's 41 residents are staying with family or at Michigan Technological University's Wadsworth Hall. Jim Gentry, president of the Houghton Housing Commission board, said it could be two months or more before residents can return.

Houghton Housing Commission Executive Director Sherry Hughes said about 80 percent of the building is damaged, with water damage throughout most of the building and fire and smoke damage on the fifth floor.

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Houghton Housing Commission board members, right, and Heritage Manor residents, above, are seen at a meeting Monday night discussing the fire at Heritage Manor on Friday. It could be two months or more before residents will be able to move back in.

Of the 41 residents, nine are at GardenView Assisted Living and Memory Care in Calumet. Funding is being worked out with the federal Housing and Urban Development department, Hughes said. More residents are being placed at the Douglass House, the Hancock Housing Commission and other spots.

There were no serious injuries as a result of the fire. The last missing pet was found Monday, Hughes said, drawing cheers from the audience.

As many as 19 residents have been at Wadsworth since Friday, Hughes said.

"They have been amazing as far as taking care of the people that are there," she said. "The community itself has just been so amazing, to go through something as horrible as this was ... this has been unbelievable."

Since Friday, the insurance adjuster has come back multiple times, and a fire inspector has investigated the site; the cause is still undetermined. Restoration companies and others have expressed interest in contributing.

An engineer from U.P. Engineers & Architects will come in today to inspect the building to determine if it is safe for people to retrieve their possessions.

Power, gas and water have been shut off to the building, while ceiling tiles are still wet and may fall, said Houghton Fire Chief Mike Reynolds.

"Anyone who has any allergies or lung conditions shouldn't be in there," he said.

Gentry said residents would not be let back in to get possessions until the building has been cleared. Once that happens, he said, residents would be able to be accompanied by another person to retrieve a couple of bags or suitcases worth of items.

"It's not going to be removal of furniture or anything like that," he said. "It's going to be necessities, clothes."

Karl Maki, head of maintenance for the Houghton Housing Commission, said they would also need to determine if material on the fifth floor contained any hazardous toxins. They already know medications on the floor are unsafe, he said.

Gentry assured residents the building would not be gutted, and nothing would be removed without residents' permission.

"That's your stuff," he said. "It's not our stuff."

Gentry said work on the building would also include the installation of sprinkler systems. The anti-fire measure was not yet a requirement when Heritage Manor was constructed in 1976.

"I would think to be up to code now, we'd have to," he said.

Hughes said they were working to return things to normal.

"This has been the toughest three days of our lives," she said. "We're going to get through this and be back here by Christmas, I hope."

Residents applauded the local efforts on their behalf.

Gail Laajala, who lives in the apartment on the fifth floor next to where the fire began, said she had called 911, and the operator told her assistance was coming. None came, for which she faults the 911 operator. She put a wet towel over her face and waved to firefighters from the deck, who were able to get a ladder to her and bring her husband out.

"If I didn't finally go out on the deck, we wouldn't have been rescued," she said.

Laajala's husband is now staying at Marquette General Hospital for treatment unrelated to the fire. Laajala started staying at Wadsworth Hall last night, which she said has been "great." But she's looking forward to moving back in.

"I do want to go back to there, when it's all fixed up," she said. "It's a wonderful place to live."



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